Picksburgh

I just spent a little over 24 hours in Pittsburgh, after not having been there since I finished school in May, 2005. I really love it there; I mean, I really do. I’m sure part of it is nostalgia — after all, I came of age there. It was the first city I ever lived in, where I learned to navigate public transit, where I learned to city-bike, where I learned to exist out from under my parents’ roof. It was where I discovered things like literature, indie rock, folk music, contemporary art, and food that wasn’t totally bland. Admittedly, I suppose a lot of people feel this way about the place they went to college.

But there’s just something about Pittsburgh. It’s a city, with great neighborhoods and restaurants and cafes and transit (okay, the “great” is arguable here, but where isn’t it?) and with big, beautiful, brick houses that have ivy growing on them and yards with trees, and I could maybe even afford to live in one of these houses. It has history and character and its own bizarro culture and dialect.

I don’t know; I’m sure I could be happy a lot of places, and I’m not saying I absolutely have to move to Pittsburgh as soon as I can swing it or else I will perish. I have a lot of things to figure out either before I can make a geographic move or that will play into any decisions about a geographic move, including career path, finding a partner, and so on. But I do know that I like being in this city.

I made a flickr set with some pictures I took and a lot of commentary/backstory, so if you like Pittsburgh or you like to read my reminiscing rambles, you should head over there. I’ll include some highlights and other random things here.

First of all, let me say that there is nothing wrong with french fries, grilled chicken, or grilled steak being on a salad. In fact, I expect it, really.

I was struck by all of the sports-team paraphernalia people were wearing. I mean, these people are serious about their sports, and they are really happy to be Stanley Cup and Super Bowl champions. Every bar you go into, there’s Steelers and Pirates and Penguins crap everywhere: bobble heads, beer cozies, pennants, posters, gaudy light-up things, it’s incredible. On Penn Ave. in the Strip, there were three stores just like this one within a few blocks of each other, not to mention street vendors selling similar wares. (I think this was the best t-shirt I saw. I bought it, of course.) And then there was the bus that had GO STEELERS! on its marquee. Amazing.

Speaking of buses, Port Authority has added a number of lines since I left. I know and love the 61A, 61B, and 61C. . .but the 61D and 61F, really? But I guess it’s good that a transit authority is adding lines instead of cutting them. . .ahem, MUNI! Poor MUNI.

The Squirrel Cage, my favorite bar in Pittsburgh, and probably my favorite bar anywhere, is still going strong. The two bartenders that were there yesterday are the same ones that were there the last time I went, which was sometime in May, 2005. They have this great dumbwaiter behind the bar that they load beer onto in the basement and then pulley it up when they need to restock. And even though Pennsylvania passed a smoking ban, you can, miraculously, still smoke in the Cage. Apparently there is some loophole that allows smoking if a business does a certain percentage of its business through booze and instead of food.

It was interesting to watch Pittsburgh local news and talk to Pittsburghers about the recent fitness club shootings. It has gotten a fair amount of coverage nationally, but about 80% of the local news I watched was devoted to it, every reporter filmed standing outside the LA Fitness building. The bar patrons were abuzz about it, too, mostly lamenting that all this violence was giving Pittsburgh a bad name (remember the guy who killed three police officers earlier this year?) and also flabbergasting that the men behind these crimes were so “normal-looking, just like any kid you’d pass on the street, you just never know.”

Some things have changed, most notably in the parts of Oakland that have been bought by the University and spiffed up, but the important stuff is still there. Walnut Street is still chic, Murray Avenue is still dingy, and Forbes is still populated by frat boys, even in the summer. And my heart is still warm when I’m there.

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